Love Made Perfect and Perfect Love (4.13-21)
Dwelling in Him (vv.13-15)
Believers are those who are "in God"; they are in eternal union with Him. He is "in us", meaning that deity resides within us, and that is evidenced if "we love one another" (v.12). Now we are being told that we have the assurance of that astonishing truth in that "he hath given us of his Spirit". Previously, John had told us that He has given us His Spirit (3.24) and that took place when we were saved; believing resulted in our being "sealed with that holy Spirit of promise" (Eph 1.13). Here we are being told that He has "given us of his Spirit". This cannot mean that we have received part of Him, with the prospect of further instalments as Christian experience progresses. He is a divine being and people either have Him or they don't: "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom 8.9). Thus the phrase "of his Spirit" must mean that God has given us the characteristics of the Holy Spirit, the moral qualities that stem from His action in our lives including the capacity to love our brethren. Awareness of such gracious activity confirms our own conviction that "we dwell in him, and he in us".
In v.14 the apostolic "we" comes into play once more; as in 1.1-4, John is speaking from his personal knowledge of Christ and his observance of Him during "the days of his flesh". This results in him making a resounding statement of his personal persuasion about the purpose for which the Son was sent: "to be the Saviour of the world". (Note that within these two verses, Father, Son and Holy Spirit all receive mention.) The fact that the Lord Jesus is the Saviour of the world is faintly illustrated in Joseph's new name, Zaphnath-paaneah. Thomas Newberry indicates that one meaning of the name is, "saviour of the world" (Gen 41.45). By his foresight and administrative skills Joseph had saved the region from the worst consequences of the famine; his young life had been spent in slavery and imprisonment as stepping-stones to that mighty work. He became a saviour at a cost. But to provide spiritual salvation for rebels across the entire planet, the Lord Jesus had to become "the propitiation…for the sins of the whole world" (2.2). While their understanding was limited, the Samaritans of Sychar thrillingly acknowledged, "we…know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (Jn 4.42). The title "the Saviour of the world" must be regarded as a term expressing potential, for John immediately makes clear that to benefit from His saving power necessitates the need to confess Him (v.15). The word "Whosoever" suggests that it is open to all to do it, but for God to abide in a man requires the individual to make confession "that Jesus is the Son of God". To the Jewish mind, sonship and equality with God were equated (Jn 5.18). Confessing that Jesus is the Son of God therefore is really an acknowledgment of His deity with all the ramifications of that as regards His saving ability as the Saviour of the world.
Love made Perfect (vv.16-17)
John now expresses a confidence born of personal experience (know and believe), that God has love in us (v.16, RV). True, God has displayed love to us (AV), but the Greek preposition en seems to indicate that because "God is love", and that such a God dwells within us, then the love associated with Him is also resident within us, so God has love in us. Inevitably, that love will flow out to others and thus, "We love, because he first loved us" (v.19, RV).
In v.17 we are again dependent on other versions to see that John does not refer to "our love" being made perfect, but rather, "Herein has love been perfected with us" (JND), that is, God's love has been perfected in our experience. In what sense has it been perfected? As in v.12, the idea is that God had a goal in loving us, and that aim has been brought to maturity, perfected, when the objects of divine love "love one another" (v.7). When God's love is perfected in individuals in that way, there is a considerable benefit for them; they have "boldness in the day of judgment". Attention has already been drawn to the repetition of the word "boldness" (confidence) in the epistle. On this occasion, it appears that the expression of love on the part of believers gives them confidence in respect of the Day of Judgment. That is, the fact that they give evidence of the reality of their salvation means that any terror that once gripped them at the prospect of the Judgment Day has been dissipated.
Another huge contributor to having boldness is the thought that "as he is, so are we in this world". He has passed through judgment at the cross, and in glory He is now beyond the reach of judgment; that is how "he is" right now. "He has died to sin once for all" (Rom 6.10, JND). We are still "in this world" but we are "as he is", right now! "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8.1). "He that heareth…and believeth…shall not come into condemnation" (Jn 5.24). The child of God can sing Paul Gerhardt's hymn with certainty and delight,
There is no condemnation,
There is no hell for me,
The torment and the fire,
Mine eyes shall never see.
Fear Removed (vv.18-19)
The mention of the Day of Judgment in v.17 suggests that the fear referred to in v.18 is the fear of that judgment; "perfect love" dispels such fear. Observe the sequence of events. Divine love achieves its aim when its recipients love each other. That in turn gives these individuals the assurance of salvation. Consequently any former fear of the judgment of God has gone. "Fear has to do with punishment" (ESV); fear of punishment will be the result if there is an absence of the love for others that gives boldness in respect of the Day of Judgment. Thus, "He that feareth is not made perfect in love".
Expressing love is the consequence of being loved by God. Most translations drop the word "him" in v.19. Any love that we have, whether it is for the Lord or for His people is the result of His first loving us. His love is the original; ours is reciprocal.
Loving and Hating (vv.20-21)
Once more John highlights the things that people say (v.20), and he makes no allowances for the inconsistency and hypocrisy of claiming to love God while hating a brother! In uncompromising language, he brands the one who expresses such a claim "a liar". The inconsistency of the man's words with his conduct seems obvious to John: "he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?". It is incongruous to claim to have affection for unseen deity while expressing no love towards someone who is visible, someone whose needs are obvious, saints whose wants can be assessed and whose poverty can be alleviated in genuine practical expressions of love. James sees the same disparity in the man who claims to have faith, when that faith is not visible in an authentic concern for others that is demonstrated in a generous way (James 2.14-17). Words are cheap; platitudes cost nothing; real love and genuine faith pay a high price in terms of self-sacrifice.
Again, John emphasises that the responsibility to love our brethren is not optional but a "command" (v.21). Bearing "one another's burdens" is fulfilling "the law of Christ" (Gal 6.2). James describes the obligation to love as "the royal law" (James 2.8). This is a binding precept for the child of God. Loving God and loving our brethren must go in tandem. The second is the expression and evidence of the first. When Peter avowed his affection for the Lord Jesus, the Saviour indicated that Peter's love for Him had to be channelled towards those whom He called, "my lambs" and "my sheep" (Jn 21.15-17). Although this next reference is to a future age, the principle holds good; acts of kindness towards His people are deemed to be acts of kindness towards Him (Mt 25.40). Is your love for "the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God" (1 Tim 1.17) expressed in your attitude and kindness towards His subjects, people who are creatures of time, mortal, visible, and sometimes even foolish? Is your professed affection for the Father demonstrated in your earnest care for the children in His family, your brethren and sisters? It is absurd to profess to love the One, while ignoring and disparaging the other.
To be continued.